Wow, can you believe it's week 16??? The crew has been together for four whole months, enduring 110 degree days in August, and below freezing nights in December. We have worked with chainsaws, pulaskis, rock bars, chisels, and our own hands. We've gotten dirty together in the field and sat together in the classroom. We learned to work as a team and challenged each other and ourselves. It's been a crazy action-packed season, and our last week was no exception.
We started the week in an unusual state - clean and dressed up. We went to the BLM for informational interviews. Each crew member was paired up with several BLM employees with different specialties. The guys spent time with their interviewees, asking them questions about their jobs and how they progressed in their careers. It was a very informative and engaging day.
After spending a day doing wrap-up paperwork and tool cleaning, we departed for our last trip together - to the Grand Canyon!!!
First, we drove up to Flagstaff and explored a lava tube cave and it was quite impressive at 1.5 miles deep and ranging between 2 feet and 30 feet in height. We hiked in, marvelling at the mineral deposits on the walls and enjoying the complete darkness when we turned off all of our headlamps. We couldn't even see our hands right in front of our eyes!!
We arrived at the Grand Canyon just in time for a beautiful pink and orange sunset. For many of the crew, it was the first time they had ever seen this natural wonder, and everyone was blown away by it's beauty. As the sun set, we lingered on the rim, enjoying looking into the depths of the canyon, in awe.
The following day we set off from the Grandview trailhead towards Horseshoe Mesa. Hiking was hard, down down down. We observed and admired the trail work - the timber retaining walls! the rock retaining walls! the riprap! the rock staircases! Wow! Being at Horseshoe Mesa was surreal. Seeing the canyon walls both a mile above and below created a sense of insignificance in us all. The guys were intrigued by the "Caution: Radiation Area Keep Out" signs and wanted to explored that further, but were content to walk away given the uphill hike awaiting us. It was steep, but the guys' lungs proved themselves worthy and everyone made it out without a hitch. We then, with some sadness at leaving the canyon behind, left to return to Phoenix in advance of an impending snow storm that dumped almost three feet of snow in Northern Arizona.
The entire program came to a close on Saturday December 15 at our graduation ceremony. Approximately 70 people turned out at the Audubon on a rainy afternoon to honor our eight graduates. Speeches were given by Hannah Wendel from the BLM, Bill Gibson from the BLM, Adam Soto from ACYR, and Trevor Knight from the SCA. Everyone acknowledged the students' hard work and contribution to the world of conservation over the last sixteen weeks. The crew leaders Mel and Sean gave out award certificates to each member, appreciating them for their unique contribution. Then, the members received their final, overall certification for the entire program. Congratulations!
The guys then presented framed photographs of the crew to our agency partners to thank them for all of their hard work pulling this program together. The final speech was a heartful description of our entire experience, written and delivered by George and Angel. The applause led into a big Mexican feast with delicious burritos and guacamole. Families mingled, introductions were made, food was enjoyed. When it was time to leave, we tried not to say goodbye, but see you later. The crew is determined to keep in touch and promises to continue to support each other into their next phases of life. And if we've learned one thing about these eight young men over the last four months, it's this: when they're determined, look out, because they will accomplish their goal.
Congratulations to the Fall 2012 Phoenix Field School!!!!!!!